Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Your Mid-Morning Outrage

     Just in case you might be disposed to treat all the Boys in Blue as strictly guardians of justice:

     It's not just asset forfeiture being used by law enforcement to take property away from people. With civil asset forfeiture (as opposed to criminal asset forfeiture), property is deemed "guilty," even if its former possessors are not. Kaveh Waddell of The Atlantic is highlighting another way law enforcement agencies are taking possession of property: by calling it "evidence" and playing keep away with former defendants who've had their cases dismissed or have been acquitted.
     Last summer, Kenneth Clavasquin was arrested in front of the Bronx apartment he shared with his mother. While the 23-year-old was being processed, the New York Police Department took his possessions, including his iPhone, and gave him a receipt detailing the items in police custody. That receipt would be his ticket to getting back his stuff after his case ended.

     But the ticket is worthless. His case was dismissed but no one involved in the seizure of his items showed any interest in returning them. He brought the court's dismissal to the NYPD to retrieve his iPhone but the property desk claimed it was being held as "arrest evidence" -- even though there were no more criminal charges forthcoming. He was sent to the District Attorney's office to ask for permission to obtain the no longer needed "evidence," but the office was less than interested in helping him reclaim his belongings.

     Clavasquin needed to get a release from the district attorney’s office stating that his property would no longer be needed for evidence. Over the following three months, he repeatedly called the assistant district attorney assigned to his case, but he neither got a release nor a written explanation of why he was being denied one.

     Then, with the help of an attorney at the Bronx Defenders, a public-defender office that had been representing him since the day after his arrest, Clavasquin sent a formal written request for the district attorney’s release. He got no response.

     Clavasquin's iPhone was seized in the summer of 2015. His case was dismissed in December. The phone is still in the possession of the NYPD while Clavasquin has continued making monthly service contract payments for a phone he can't use.

     Clever, eh? If the iPhone is “evidence,” then clearly the police can’t release it; it might be critical to an investigation-to-be! What investigation, pray tell? We have no need to tell you.

     The Police Department of the City of New York has long been regarded as a model for other urban law enforcement agencies. “New York’s finest” have been repeatedly held up as examples of bravery and thoroughness in the pursuit of justice. If the NYPD can be corrupted by the lure of ill-gotten gains, what law enforcement institution is immune?

     Ever seen Prince of the City, Gentle Reader? Ever wonder how much of it is fiction and how closely it mirrors the true state of law-enforcement practice? Maybe you should.

Warning Shot

     If you think Hillary Clinton doesn’t really intend to repeal First Amendment protections of freedom of expression, think again:

     Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign has sent out a fundraising email arguing the website Breitbart News has no “right to exist,” and suggests that if elected, the website will be shut down entirely.

     “We’ve had a conservative media in this country for a while,” says the email, sent Thursday and signed by deputy communications director Christina Reynolds. “I don’t always like what they have to say, but I respect their role and their right to exist Reynolds’ acknowledgment that the regular conservative media has a “right to exist,” though, is used to contrast it with Breitbart, which apparently has no such right.

     “Breitbart is something different,” she says. “They make Fox News look like a Democratic Party pamphlet. They’re a different breed altogether — not just conservative but radical, bigoted, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic conspiracy peddlers who never have been and never should be anywhere near the levers of power in this country.”

     Miss Reynolds’s gambit is a typical entering-wedge ploy. She accuses the Breitbart site of all manner of sins it’s never committed. She’s counting on popular revulsion at such sins, without any objective evidence thereof, to fuel a campaign to shut Breitbart down. She’s hoping to get enough concurrence with her “free speech is all very well, but you have to draw the line somewhere” cant – as with most such aspiring censors, she’d never actually say where “the line” should be drawn once and for all – to disguise her real agenda.

     The real agenda, of course, is absolute State power over all forms of communication above the level of a conversation over the back fence. Breitbart might be the first to face the guillotine, but it wouldn’t be the last. Liberty’s Torch would be loaded into a tumbril sooner or later.

     There are three absolute requirements for the maintenance of a free society:

  1. Education;
  2. Weaponry;
  3. Communications.

     The Democrats are demonstrably hostile to all three things. They’ve already conquered our educational institutions. They’ve made significant inroads against our right to keep and bear arms. Should they saw through the third leg of the tripod, freedom will be dead and doomed for as far forward into the future as any man alive today can see – and Hillary Clinton has promised to further that attack.

     That’s what we’ll face should the Democrats, the Republican Establishment, the Main Stream Media, and the NeverTrumpers succeed at installing Hillary Rodham Clinton, by leaps and bounds the most corrupt, most deceitful, and most venal figure ever to attain federal power, in the White House this coming November.

Your Early Morning Outrage

     Note, please, that it’s coming from a Republican:

     NEW ORLEANS – The Good Samaritans who rescued hundreds, maybe thousands of people during the Great Flood of 2016, are not happy after a state lawmaker announced that he wants government regulations on future actions by the citizen heroes.

     Some of those Good Samaritans, a loosely-organized group called the 'Cajun Navy,' are being interviewed by media around the country, but that attention is nowhere near the pushback lawmakers are discussing when it comes to possibly breaking the law in the future if they save lives again....

     Republican State Senator Jonathan Perry of the Vermillion, Lafayette area, is working on legislation that could require training, certificates and a permit fee to allow these Good Samaritans to get past law enforcement into devastated areas. He said some were turned away.

     “At the end of the day, there are going to be two things that are going to be the hurdle when you approach it from the state’s standpoint,” said Sen. Perry in a radio interview. “Liability is going to be number one for them. They don’t want the liability of someone going out to rescue someone and then not being able to find them (the rescuers) and, secondly, there’s a cost.”

     Jonathan Perry deserves to be tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail. At the very least the Louisiana Republican Party should drum him out of its bosom, disavow any concurrence with his obscene notions about requiring a license to save catastrophe victims, and make an unambiguous proclamation of its support for the now nationally famous “Cajun Navy” that leaped into action in flooded Louisiana while the state and federal “emergency management” agencies were still pulling their thumbs out of their asses.

     I would hope that if some officious “public servant” were to obstruct a private-citizen Good Samaritan under like circumstances, the Samaritan would thrash him to within an inch of his life. Considering that Supreme Court decisions have held that the State owes you nothing, such a “public servant” (“If there’s anything a public servant hates to do, it’s something for the public” – Kin Hubbard) would be a de facto accessory to the negligent homicide of unnamed persons. Horsewhipping would be too good for him.

     I’ll be back later, after my blood pressure has gone down a bit.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Frame Stories And Interlocutory Narration

     Sorry, Gentle Reader, but I’m so thoroughly sick of politics and current events just now that I can’t bring myself to rant about them. Not that there’s any lack of material for a full-throated Fran Porretto tirade, mind you. The world is still going to Hell in a handbasket, and flesh-eating zombies are still busily ripping away the bottom. I’m simply not in the mood.

     (Hey, it works for wives worldwide, doesn’t it?)

     So, as I often do at such moments, I’ll slather you with a brief discourse about fiction. If you’re a writer, you might find it interesting. If not...well, what else do you have to do with the next ten minutes that would be more entertaining or edifying than reading Liberty’s Torch?

     Many a storytelling technique has gone by the boards these past few decades. Though novelist and critic David Lodge has told us that “everything is in and nothing is out,” nevertheless it’s obvious to anyone who reads widely that certain forms are less frequently found in contemporary fiction than was once the case. Consider, for example, the epistolary novel: a tale told in letters sent by and to the story’s characters. I’ve encountered only one recent example of such: Steven Brust and Emma Bull’s Freedom & Necessity. (Wikipedia, however, lists several other contemporary examples, including Andy Weir’s The Martian.)

     A format such as that is often called a “frame story” or “framing device.” In effect, the writer tells two stories, one enclosed by the other, in a single volume. The “outer” story might be separated in time from the events of the “inner” one; indeed, this is usually the case. However, the two stories are linked in an unambiguous fashion: by protagonist and subject matter.

     “Frame stories” can achieve an end that was once pursued in a different fashion, via another technique deprecated today: the omniscient narrator, not bound to any character’s viewpoint. The writer can use the frame to introduce a narrator other than himself. He then permits that narrator some of the liberties that were once marks of the omniscient-narrator style.

     Among the requirements of the “frame story” technique is that the writer must have “two stories to tell.” They needn’t be wholly separate. In fact, they shouldn’t be, for the “outer” story exists to narrate the “inner” one. Therefore, they must be firmly linked, whether through their characters or their focus.

     Focus is always important. The “outer” story, however important to the characters in it, dictates the focus of the “inner” one by the selection of scenes and events described. Whatever the circumstances of the “outer” narrator, he must be principally concerned with the “inner” narration. The Kevin Spacey / Kate Winslet / Laura Linney movie The Life Of David Gale is a highly dramatic example of this requirement: the “outer” narrator, David Gale (played by Spacey), is facing execution in a few days’ time...but his focus is on the key events of his life other than the one that brought him to that condition, rather than on his “outer”-time jeopardy.

     I’m fond of this technique, as anyone who’s read Chosen One, Polymath, Priestesses, or Love In The Time Of Cinema might imagine. One of my two novels-in-progress uses it as well. A few readers have bridled at it – I can’t imagine why – while others have noted it with surprise and pleasure. I find that it often goes well with my subject matter, which is episodic though focused on the life and times of a single Marquee character.

     One of the criticisms that’s been leveled at my stuff is its patina of archaism: the resemblance between my style and that of writers of bygone days. The frame-story approach and the interlocutory narration it supports, approaches no longer favored by contemporary writers, are part of that. But when your core story is episodic in nature, being spread over a long time interval and omitting the greater part of the events thereof, framing is exceedingly useful for emphasizing what really matters. Much of the history of even the most significant, most active, and most compelling character is “just day-to-day life.” It would be boring to the reader to need to sift through it all, to say nothing of the burden it would impose on the writer.

     Episodic novels are also disfavored today. There’s a notion going about that dramatic unity is impossible when the events of the novel are widely separated in time. Needless to say, I disagree. Dramatic unity isn’t just an artifact of causally linked events closely spaced in time; it can also arise from the evolution of the Marquee characters’ natures and significance: more specifically, the reasons they do what they do, and the effects they have on those around them.

     The speculative genres – science fiction, fantasy, and horror – feature few examples of the episodic novel, and therefore few examples of the frame story. In part, this is because the technique is unsuited to the sort of adventure tale most frequently told in those genres. But in equal or greater measure, it’s because the events in speculative novels tend to occur over short time spans. Nevertheless, some examples exist; the ones that leap to mind at once are Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, in which the “narrator” of the frame is the Encyclopedia Galactica, and Robert A. Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love, in which Heinlein’s perennial rogue-hero Lazarus Long tells of the high water mark events of his two thousand year life.

     What examples of frame-story narration have you encountered in your reading? When has it struck you as suitable and well exploited, and when has it seems an unnecessary intrusion upon the “real story” you were being told by the interlocutor character or device?

     (Cross-posted at my fiction-promotion site.)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Unacknowledged Invasions

     Before we begin, let me be quite specific:

     Invasion n: A warlike or hostile entrance into the possessions or domains of another; the incursion of an army for conquest or plunder.

     That’s from Webster, Gentle Reader. When a force hostile to the inhabitants of territory X enters that territory, that force is invading that territory, especially if it does so illegally.

     Now let’s have a snippet from the usually reliable Joel Kotkin:

     ...two compelling books out this year led me to more somber thoughts about the prospects for the decline and devolution of western society.

     One, “Submission” by the incendiary French writer Michel Houellebecq, traces the life of a rather dissolute French literature professor as he confronts a rapidly Islamifying France....Ultimately, fear of Le Pen leads the French left into an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, handing power over to an attractive, clever Islamist politician. With all teaching posts requiring conversion to Islam, Francois in the end “submits” to Allah. Francois’ motives for conversion merge opportunism and attraction, including to the notion that, in an Islamic society, high prestige people like himself get to choose not only one wife, but several, including those barely past puberty.

     The other declinist novel, “The Family Mandible” by Lionel Shriver, is, if anything more dystopic. The author covers a once illustrious family through the projected dismal decades from 2029 to 2047. Like the Muslim tide that overwhelms Francois’ France, the Brooklyn-based Mandibles are overwhelmed in an increasingly Latino-dominated America; due to their higher birthrate and an essentially “open border” policy, “Lats” as they call them, now dominate the political system. The president, Dante Alvarado, is himself an immigrant from Mexico, due to a constitutional amendment — initially pushed to place Arnold Schwarzenegger in the White House — that allows non-natives to assume the White House.

     Collapse is from within.

     Reflect on that final, four word sentence. Do the novels Kotkin summarizes above describe collapses – or the consequences of unresisted invasions?

     Few alive today have vivid memories of the World War II domestic milieu. The United States, once it entered the war, embraced an economic fascism that imposed rationing of virtually every desirable good upon the civilian populace. It wasn’t an easy time for our armed forces, of course, but civilians were required to sacrifice, too. No, it didn’t rise to the level of serious privation for many. Among other things, more Americans maintained private gardens back then than today. But the point here is that our counter-invasion of Europe and our progress westward across the Pacific against the Japanese Empire had consequences for all Americans, not just those in uniformed service.

     All invasions have consequences for everyone involved. The Germans are relearning that particular lesson as we speak:

     BERLIN (Reuters) - For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the German government plans to tell citizens to stockpile food and water in case of an attack or catastrophe, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper reported on Sunday.

     Germany is currently on high alert after two Islamist attacks and a shooting rampage by a mentally unstable teenager last month. Berlin announced measures earlier this month to spend considerably more on its police and security forces and to create a special unit to counter cyber crime and terrorism.

     "The population will be obliged to hold an individual supply of food for ten days," the newspaper quoted the government's "Concept for Civil Defence" - which has been prepared by the Interior Ministry - as saying.

     A country being invaded cannot rely upon the smooth operation of its civilian logistics. Germany is being invaded by a force hostile to German laws, German customs, and the German people: Muslim migrants. The invasion being undeniable – and undeniably violent – the populace must prepare for interruptions in the usually smoothly functioning German economy. That this is taking place with the connivance of the German federal government doesn’t change the facts. But don’t say any of that to Angela Merkel.

     The United States is undergoing a quieter invasion than what the Germans are suffering. Our invaders are mainly Central Americans who enter at our southern border. Supposedly they come to enjoy the benefits of the superior American economy. While that might be so, the hostility of those illegal alien invaders to American law and norms could hardly be plainer. Little by little they’re transforming California and much of the Southwest into a single giant exclave in which English is seldom spoken, American law is not respected, and American law enforcement is hesitant to enter. But our political elite refuses to recognize that invasion, quite as staunchly as the political classes of Europe refuse to recognize theirs.

     One consequence of these invasions is a significant shift in racial, ethnic, and cultural attitudes among the invaded. In Britain, France, and Germany, a resurgent consciousness of national allegiance and cultural identity can be detected. It has the political classes of those countries terrified. Well it should, for the political classes have openly encouraged the invaders while castigating the native populations to become “more tolerant.” In the U.S., we’re seeing a gradual stiffening of Anglo-American cultural pride: a willingness to assert the superiority of Anglo-American norms against the demands and insinuations of the invaders. This development has the American political class worried; for a proud Americanism of the pre-war variety to reassert itself would be deadly for the transnational-progressivist project and those with whom it seeks to replace us.

     Another consequence is the doffing of masks among the elite’s outer guard:

     Traditional American culture is, as a matter of historical fact, a mostly white, European and English culture. Identity politics has simply been one very effective weapon among a whole arsenal the Left has deployed in its war on tradition. We should fight this effort and sympathize with those most aggrieved by it, but we should not let our sympathy push us to adopting the same tactics or thinking as the Left.

     What’s this? Asserting an American culture – a “white, European and English culture” – would be wrong? Why?

     Black pride is to be celebrated. Asian pride is to be celebrated. Latino pride is to be celebrated. But white pride is denounced everywhere....There are many reasons for this sorry state of affairs, too many to list here. But it’s worth noting that, say, Irish pride or Italian pride have no sinister connotations. This points to the fact that the designation “white” came into existence as the cultural and political opposite of “black” at a time when being black invoked either slavery or Jim Crow. In this context, white isn’t really an ethnicity so much as an ideological construct about racial superiority.

     Great God in heaven! One of the very best writers on the Right has jumped onto the “legacy of slavery” bandwagon! By that “logic,” whites are not allowed to be proud of their extraordinary achievements or the country they built – and don’t give me any guff about slavery – because it resonates with racism!

     Well, there’s no degree of intellect or erudition that can wholly compensate for cowardice. Remember what National Review did to John Derbyshire. I’m sure Jonah Goldberg does.

     In point of fact, America has been invaded – a process still in progress – by persons who disavow white laws, white customs and norms, and white morals and ethics. Many from Central America are technically Caucasian...but in their hostility to the overarching white culture of this nation, they constitute as much a threat to us as any Wahhabi Muslim.

     I could go on for many pages about this. The details of the invasions in progress in the First World are many and horrifying. But I’ll note one more aspect of our danger, one that pertains not to migrants but to persons already here, some of them descended from ancestors who were brought here against their will.

     The urban riots that have beleaguered this country for fifty years and more – most recently, the ones that ravaged Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Ferguson – are race riots, nothing else. They occur only in those regions where blacks are numerous. They involve violence that appears purposeless, except for the looting involved. They amount to a war by blacks against whites. The localities in which they occur make that plain.

     And how have our political masters responded? Not with firm and timely suppression of the violence, but with attempts to appease, to conciliate. Yes, just as they endeavor to persuade the Israelis to appease HAMAS, whose charter openly and unambiguously calls for Israel’s destruction.

     This should go without saying, but it’s been ignored so completely for so long that I think I’ll put it in large font:

That which is attacked must defend itself or die.

     That applies just as imperatively to a race under siege as to a nation.

Sameness Screed Part 2: Priorities

     Some of my less attentive correspondents reacted to this piece by asking “What’s wrong with X?” where X is one of the motifs / plot elements I decried therein. One particularly plaintive fellow demanded to know “How am I supposed to get recognized if I don’t write what people are reading?”

     It’s a good question, but the answer is another, equally good question: “Let’s suppose you’ve done that: you got recognized – i.e., you’ve developed an audience – by writing about space wars, or time travel, or vampires, or werewolves, or some such. What then?

     If your highest priority is getting a readership – and I’m not disparaging this – then what if what you’ve really wanted to write about this whole time is something infinitely distant? Once you’ve developed a readership from those tired old tropes, how many of your readers do you expect will follow you into the realm(s) you really want to explore?

     My priorities as a reader are entertainment, edification, and the diversion available from good storytelling. Worthwhile fiction, for me, must be fresh, original, and innovative. I get very little pleasure out of the threadbare elements I enumerated in the first screed. Time was, when they hadn’t been overused, I could enjoy some of the little twists contemporary writers used to innovate around them. I even tried my hand at one of them (details to follow). That time is behind us.

     Now, I’m probably not typical. But then, Liberty’s Torch isn’t a typical sort of blog. What I post here reflects my personal opinions and preferences. A number of writers have made considerable sums by exploiting those worn-out tropes. Perhaps you might do so, too.

     However, we live in an era in which differences of opinion strike many persons as declarations of war. “That ain’t my style, said Casey.” I vent; I declaim; sometimes I even orate. And others may differ. But in the idiom of an old friend, that’s why there’s chocolate and vanilla.

     But I mustn’t allow this to conclude without a specimen of genuine originality wrapped around one of the most overtired of all the treadless tropes.

     Kenneth MacMillan laid the filing on the scarred pine workbench and stared into Jared Tillotsen's eyes. "You can't be serious."
     The lawyer's mouth tightened. "I am."
     "There have to be a thousand reasons why I can't hear this."
     Tillotsen nodded once. "I await Your Honor's decision and explanation."
     MacMillan snorted. "Don't get shirty with me, Jared. I've known you since..." The judge trailed off. Mentioning that was in bad taste, and always would be. "First, the class needs at least one stakeholder who's willing to appear in open court."
     Tillotsen's lips quirked at the pun. "I have one."
     "You're kidding!"
     Tillotsen said nothing. His eyes rested lightly on the judge's countenance.
     "With all the restrictions we'd have to put on him, with all the hazards he'd have to face to come before us, he'd still be willing to do it?"
     Another nod. "It's a she, actually."
     MacMillan waved the irrelevancy aside. "Second, no precedent has been established under which one of them may prosecute a legal action against one of us, much less all of them against all of us."
     "I'm aware of that, Your Honor."
     "It doesn't appear to disturb you."
     "It's why I brought the case to you."
     I should have known my reputation would land me in hot water someday.
     "Well, third, what justiciable controversy exists to propel the action?"
     Tillotsen pointed to the stapled sheaf of papers on the workbench. "It's on the front page, Your Honor."
     And indeed it was, in the blackest of letters:

     MacMillan tore his eyes from the accusation and regarded the lawyer at length.
     Tillotsen wasn't looking well. He'd lost a great deal of weight. Most of his hair was gone. His pallor was extraordinary, as if his flesh had been coated in plaster. The effort of standing upright appeared to tax him to the edge of his resources. He probably thought he disguised it well, but MacMillan had caught him leaning against the crate beside him, and panting as inconspicuously as he could.
     "You still aren't...?"
     Tillotsen shook his head.
     "You're going to die, Jared."
     Something like amusement flickered across the lawyer's face. "Not likely, Your Honor. Now, as to the matter at hand -- ?"
     MacMillan ground his teeth. He shifted his weight and nearly toppled the stack of detergent boxes on which he sat. "You ask far too much. I can't let this proceed for all the reasons we've already discussed and a great many more."
     "I ask," the lawyer said in a formal cadence, "that you do justice. We have a theory of rights that explicitly authorizes this case."
     "We have a theory? No, Jared, they have a theory. We have laws, no more. And none of our laws even nod sideways to your action."
     Tillotsen nodded and shoved his hands into his pockets. He stepped around the crates and mop buckets to stand before the sole window in MacMillan's chambers. The building's parking lot was all that lay beyond. The lights showed few cars scattered below. The lawyer stared down at them as if they could be decoded into a message from God.
     "On what are our laws based, Your Honor? Are they merely matters of expedience, little adjustments of social mechanisms that have no moral significance?"
     MacMillan would have flushed, were he able. "You know better, Jared. They codify the basis of our survival. There's no deeper morality than that."
     Tillotsen awarded the judge a knowing smile. "You never disappoint me, Kenneth. How many years, how many cases have I brought before you? And you have yet to miss the point. You always find the principles beneath each case, and you never betray them. Even when I've lost, I've never disagreed with you at the end. And that's why I'm here tonight."
     MacMillan started to speak, stopped and clamped his mouth shut much too hard. He suppressed a grunt of pain. "You expect me to elucidate a theory of rights that will cover this case, for the purpose of allowing the case to proceed in the first place, when all our legal practice and everything deducible from it forbids me even to look at your papers! Jared, the strain of being your hero is getting to be too much for me."
     Tillotsen turned back to the window. MacMillan rose and went to join him.
     The darkness was at its deepest point. The brilliant arc lights shone upon an utter stillness below. Few of the office tower's windows were illuminated. MacMillan and Tillotsen were close to having the building to themselves.
     "I'd like a dinner break, Jared. It's been a long evening, and I've had nothing for quite a while."
     Muscles rippled along the lawyer's bony jaw. MacMillan was struck by a realization. "Your... client is in the building, isn't she?"
     Tillotsen continued to stare through the window. "She is."
     "Which room?"
     "Six twenty-four." The answer came without hesitation, delivered in a mechanical monotone.
     She must be as extraordinary as he is.
     MacMillan laid a hand on the lawyer's frail shoulder. "I'll have to sleep on this, Jared. What you've asked of me is far more than I can commit to after an hour's thought. It goes to the root of our society's existence. It could affect more than even you realize." He clapped Tillotsen's shoulder gently. "Go to your client. Take her home, make sure she gets there safely. Come back tomorrow and I'll have an answer for you. And, Jared?"
     "Yes, Your Honor?"
     "Don't expect too much from me."
     Tillotsen nodded and went silently from the room.

     The sound of the door opening catapulted Ann Mears into a state beyond terror. She leaped from her chair, dropped to the floor and slithered under the pile of scrap cardboard, struggling to restrain a shriek.
     "Ann?" Jared Tillotsen's voice was soft in the darkness. "It's all right, it's only me."
     That's bad enough.
     Tillotsen's reassurance wasn't enough to bring her out of concealment. She held still and listened until she was certain that only the lawyer was there with her. When she'd finally garnered the courage to leave the shelter of the piled garbage and stand upright, she found him leaning against the doorjamb, a glint of kindly humor in his eyes.
     "The judge suggested that I take you home," he said gently. He started to offer her his arm, then chuckled and let it fall.
     "What..." She swallowed and tried to calm herself. "What did he say?"
     "He needs time, Ann. Your kind don't have standing, by the usual reading of our laws. Therefore, the class action is ab initio invalid. The judge has to find a basis for even conceding that you and yours could file such a suit." The corners of his mouth rose. "I think he wants to, but without a well reasoned basis, our people would simply ignore his decision."
     "How long do you think it'll take him to decide?"
     "He said to come back tomorrow. Can you?"
     "Can your friend stay with Melissa again tomorrow night?"
     Tillotsen nodded.
     She offered up a silent prayer for strength. "Then I'll be here."
     He gestured at the door, and followed her out.

     MacMillan couldn't sleep. He writhed in the confines of his bed, shifting from one position to another, but his real discomfort marched within his skull.
     Jared Tillotsen was an idealist and a crusader of the best kind, or the worst, depending on whether you agreed with him. In MacMillan's eyes, the law could boast no brighter jewel. Tillotsen would take no case that didn't square with his sharply defined views of justice. He was bulldog tough once the contest was joined. Yet he never deviated from principle. When he lost on the merits, he accepted the defeat and tried to learn from it. When he won, he was as gracious as anyone could ask.
     The lawyer idolized Kenneth MacMillan. The wonder of receiving such a paragon's esteem was exceeded only by the burden of carrying it.
     Tillotsen had laid a blueprint for the destruction of their society before MacMillan and had asked him to rule on it. His belief in the rightness of the cause was written on every fiber of his rapidly deteriorating body.
     There will come a point where his course will become irreversible. Even if he recants, his body will no longer be able to recover.
     MacMillan was certain that the lawyer knew as much.

     The judge nodded once, very slowly. "It can proceed."
     Delight spread across Tillotsen's face. "And the basis, Your Honor?"
     MacMillan grinned. "You put me in an impossible position. I had to ponder it for quite a while. What basis exists in our jurisprudence for determining whether a particular creature does, or does not, possess rights? Only a hearing in a recognized court. I cannot reject Miss Mears's claim summarily based on no standing, because the rejection itself would entitle her to file for certiorari as to why I had rejected it. One way or another, she's entitled to stand before me and demand to know whether she has rights in our eyes, and why. That alone would compel me to concede them."
     "And all her people as well?"
     The judge nodded again.
     Tears welled in Tillotsen's eyes. He leaned heavily against the pallet of paper towels beside him. "Thank you, Kenneth. Have you set a date?"
     "Monday next, in the main room in the basement. Your action will be first on the docket. I expect it'll be heavily attended, so you'd better be ready."
     Tillotsen nodded without looking up. The weakness that was stealing over him had never been more visible. MacMillan fought down the urge to take the lawyer in his arms.
     "Jared, forgive me for saying so, but I can't believe that you're going to last until then."
     Tillotsen pulled himself upright, forced himself to stand straight. "I'll be there, Your Honor."
     "I hope so, considering all the trouble this will make for me." The judge shifted uneasily on his crate. "You're going to lose the class action, you know."
     The lawyer grinned. "I expected to. No matter what you decide about standing, it would be ex post facto to permit any prosecutions. But that's not the main event."
     "Jared, do you really think they'll help us, after all the history we have with them?"
     "Yes. The basis of every unforced exchange is mutual advantage, and we have a lot to offer them."
     And they to us, of course. "Do you suppose I might meet your client now?"
     Tillotsen's grin vanished. He was silent for several seconds. "Do I have your word that she'll leave here unharmed, Your Honor?"
     The lawyer's jaw clenched. "Please just say yes or no, Kenneth. I haven't made arrangements to protect her from you tonight, and you can see that I'm not up to the job myself."
     The judge sputtered. "I could simply follow you to where she's waiting, if that were on my agenda."
     Tillotsen would not relent. "Yes or no, Kenneth?"
     A hand closed around MacMillan's heart and squeezed. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and rose. "You have my word that I will not commit physical violence against your client, nor permit any other of our people to do so, tonight or on any other occasion. Now please, Jared, bring her here."
     The lawyer turned and left.

     Ann Mears was barely able to walk. With each step her knees tried to buckle and send her to the floor. Her backbrain screamed that she was going to her death. Only by separating her body from her consciousness and running it on automatic was she able to continue forward.
     At some point during the walk from room 624 to the fifth floor janitor's storage area, Tillotsen had taken her arm. She hadn't noticed at first, but when the frigid clasp on her flesh penetrated the fog around her thoughts, her entire body turned to ice. Yet she would not pull away. She did not want to offend him. She did not want to discover the consequences.
     He ushered her into the storage room with gentle, formal courtesy. A dim light seeped in from the parking lot. It silhouetted a stooped male figure perched upon a cardboard box. The figure did not move, but allowed Ann and Tillotsen to approach.
     "Good evening, Miss Mears. My name is Kenneth MacMillan. I'm pleased and proud to meet you at last." The old man smiled.
     At the sight of those pronounced canines, so well suited to their legendary purpose, she almost succumbed to the urge to flee, but Tillotsen squeezed her arm gently and she stood her ground.
     "Good evening, uh, Your Honor. Is that the title you use?"
     MacMillan nodded. "Just as do judges of your kind. The dignity of the court and all that. I suppose Jared has told you that I'm going to permit your action to go forward?"
     "Yes, Your Honor, just before. Thank you."
     The judge chuckled. It was the strangest sight Ann had ever seen. There was no bloodlust in the eyes under those bushy gray brows. There was wisdom, and honor, and a considerable amount of respect. Ann's fear subsided.
     "I..." MacMillan halted himself and gave another chuckle. "I was about to say I've been dying to meet you, but that wouldn't be quite right, would it? I've been looking forward to this encounter, Miss Mears. Jared has told me only a little about you, but just on the basis of your presence before me, I think it safe to say that you're the most courageous person your species has ever produced."
     It pricked a laugh from her. "Thank you, Your Honor. But if you could hear my knees knocking you might not think so well of me."
     "To the contrary, my dear." The judge waved at Tillotsen. "Jared has said he can protect you for the hearing on Monday. Have the two of you discussed it?"
     She glanced up at the lawyer. "We have."
     "And you're satisfied?"
     She nodded.
     "Then I suppose there's no more to be said about the practical arrangements. But Miss Mears, please take care in all things." MacMillan's expression became somber. "You'll be the first living human to appear in one of our courts in all our history. Those around you will have no cause to love you and every reason to wish you ill. You must avoid anything that might be construed as a provocation, no matter how elaborate Jared's protections are. No religious emblems. No perfume. No mirrors. For the love of God, no wooden stakes! And don't approach anyone in the room without Jared's approval, and him at your side. Are you comfortable with those restrictions?"
     She swallowed. "It won't be a problem, Your Honor."
     "Good." The judge seemed about to dismiss them when she found her voice.
     "Sir, why did you decide to allow our suit? It has to be the biggest threat to your people that they've ever faced. If we win, your own laws will forbid you to feed on us."
     MacMillan was silent for a long interval. Ann wondered if she had triggered something she would regret. Tillotsen remained impassively still beside her.
     "I am not an elected official, Miss Mears. I hold my responsibilities because our people hold me in high regard. In part, because I am the oldest of our kind.
     "There are not many of us in the world. How could there be? Perhaps twenty thousand on this continent, and perhaps twice that on all the others together. We will never be a populous species. You living humans, who... provide our sustenance, must always outnumber us dramatically.
     "For at least ten thousand years, there has been war between us. I, whose memories span three hundred seventy-two years, have never known anything else. Though we feed upon you, ours is a miserable and frightened existence, a continuous cowering in the dark before your superior numbers and other advantages. The human who believes in the reality of our kind may fear us, if he should chance to leave the lighted places, but the vampire fears humankind in all places and times.
     "War is no species's preferred state, Miss Mears. We want peace, just as you do. We want stability, just as you do. We want the privilege of walking the earth openly and without fear, just as you do. But Jared has convinced me that until we cease to look upon you as our cattle, that can never come to pass.
     "So on Monday, I will take a bold step. I will allow you to claim rights before me, rights to life, liberty and property that would not accrue to a mindless meat animal, and I will uphold the claim. News of my decision will spread through our numbers from that night forward, and our world will change."
     "Will it, Your Honor? Laws seldom change the behavior of the living."
     MacMillan grinned ruefully and stared at his knees. "I know, Miss Mears. Before I... crossed over, I was a judge among living men. Vampires are different. We have always had very little, and our laws have always been few." He looked up with an expression of entreaty. "We'll be gambling that your world will change as well, though it will surely take longer. Will you do what you can to hasten it?"
     Ann nodded. "I will, sir."
     MacMillan rose and moved slowly toward her, one hand extended. Tillotsen released his grip on her arm, allowing her to stay or go as she wished.
     She raised her own hand and took the judge's in a soft clasp. His flesh was cool to the touch, as was Tillotsen's, but it closed on hers with a suggestion of strength that no creature, living or undead, would dare to challenge.

     "He's a great man."
     Tillotsen squeezed her hand. "He is."
     "Will he be putting himself in danger?"
     The lawyer shook his head. "Kenneth MacMillan could never be in danger among other vampires. You would never believe the love we have for him. He's the glue that holds us together."
     Another squeeze. "Don't worry about it, Ann. Just be ready on Monday." He opened her door for her, then gasped strangely and bent double, hands pressed to his middle.
     She stooped and took his head in her hands, and his eyes met hers. She could not read those eyes, the eyes of a man dead longer than she had lived. But her concern seemed to reach him, and he straightened and smiled.
     "I'm all right."
     Vampires lie no better than humans.
     "How long has it been, Jared?"
     He shrugged. "I've ceased to keep track. A month, maybe."
     "Since you met me, right?"
     He nodded.
     In time, it will change. We'll come to accept them, make provisions for them, learn how to synthesize what they need. But for now, only the old ways will do.
     "Melissa's not going to make it, you know."
     She would not have believed that he could become paler still, but he did. "Are you sure?"
     "Yes," she murmured. "Jared, would you... change her for me?"
     His mouth dropped open. "You honor me more than I can say, Ann."
     Not half as much as you deserve.
     "It will have to wait until after the hearing on Monday, though. I can't risk it before that. I've grown too weak."
     Ann gathered both the lawyer's hands into her own. "Thank you, Jared. For everything. When..." A rush of grief flooded through her, momentarily washing away all her words. "When she wakes up as one of you, I didn't want to have to fear my own daughter."
     "Or for her to fear her mother," he whispered.
     Ann Mears came to a decision. She gestured Tillotsen across her threshold. "Come in, Jared."
     His eyes clouded with confusion. "Why, Ann?"
     She reached up and pulled his head down to hers, brushed her warm lips across his cold ones.
     "I want to fix you something to eat."

     [“Class Action,” © 1997 Francis W. Porretto. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.]


Reviews Desperately Needed

     I keep hoping, but hope is a poor marketing strategy, so:

     At age 28, Jana Tyrell is already the foremost actress in the world. But she wants the love of a good man, and they’re not so common in Hollywood. She finds it in a most unexpected place: Onteora County, NY, a land that produces geniuses and heroes as if they’d been sown there by God. Her target, engineer and Web writer Tim Beaufort, will be rocked by the changes Jana brings to his life.

     Anyone who promises to read this short Los Angeles / Onteora County romance novel and review it at Amazon can have a free copy in .MOBI (Kindle), .EPUB, or .PDF format.

     This is honor-system stuff, Gentle Reader. I can’t enforce the terms. Neither can I keep you from giving your copy to someone else who’s made no promises (and from whom I’ve received no revenue). But I need reviews. Reviews sell books. So here we are.

     Indicate your interest either by email to my Yahoo address, or in the Comments, with a contact email address of your own. Don’t forget to specify your preferred format.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Narrow Gate: A Sunday Rumination

     And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the narrow gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. [Luke 13:22-24]

     The above passage from the Gospel According to Luke is often held up as a sort of concurrence with the following famous passage from Mark:

     And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible. [Mark 10:23-27]

     Both passages appear to state that there’s a contradiction between worldly wealth and entrance into eternal bliss after death. They’ve been used by preachers down the centuries to threaten their better-off congregants into surrendering their money to the church. But what such preachers carefully omit to explore – before their congregants, at least – is the Judean context within which Jesus made the statements above.

     First-century Judea was a society rife with evils of several kinds. First, there was the practice of slavery, then as in all ages a method of garnering the profits available from other men’s labors without their consent. Many wealthy men of that time became so through the exploitation of slave labor. Needless to say, that sort of thing has never sat well with God...though the religious authorities of the time tended to look the other way.

     Second was the frequency of pillage. A man’s home was anything but secure against robbers. Neither was a lone traveler safe even on the most heavily traveled roads. That wasn’t merely an alternate way to enrich oneself; it was also an inducement to obsession with protecting one’s wealth and property that could reach unhallowed levels. Considering that among the soldiers of the Roman occupation were many who practiced pillage when they believed they could get away with it, the threat was severe indeed.

     Third was the habit, especially among the already wealthy, of traveling heavily laden with one’s possessions rather than leaving them at home. That partook both of the fear of pillage mentioned above, but also with the love of luxury that characterized many of the wealthy of that time. It might strike contemporary Christians as strange, especially considering that what qualified then as luxury would barely get the attention of a typical poor American today. Yet it was commonplace.

     Fourth, a tidbit seldom mentioned in sermons. Jerusalem was the center of wealth and power of Judea, and thus where many wealthy men lived, conducted their businesses, or both. But Jerusalem was also a walled city, fortified against large invading forces from the time of the Judean kings. A man traveling with his possessions had to enter or leave the city through one of its gates. One of those gates, an unusually low and narrow one, was therefore called “the eye of the needle.” Getting a laden camel through it was deemed well nigh impossible.

     The picture Jesus sketched with the above passages comes into much clearer focus in light of those facts.

     From Main Street to Wall Street to Washington
     From men to women to men
     It's a nation of noses pressed up against the glass
     They've seen it on the TV
     And they want it pretty fast

     You spend your whole life
     Just pilin' it up there
     You got stacks and stacks and stacks
     Then Gabriel comes and taps you on the shoulder
     But you don't see no hearses with luggage racks

     [Don Henley, “Gimme What You Got”]

     Americans are probably more focused on worldly gain than is good for us. We strategize, strive, and scratch for that next big strike: the next promotion, the big bonus, the bigger house in a better neighborhood, the fine foods and beverages, the nice clothes, the fine furniture, the luxury cars, the fancy toys...even, sometimes and most deplorably, the trophy spouse “worthy of the station I’ve achieved.”

     Yet none of that is inherently sinful. It’s the obsession with wealth, the mindset that excludes God and neighbor, that imperils one’s soul.

     The two Great Commandments never cease to apply:

     But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
     Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

     The love of wealth can crowd out other loves. This seems so perfectly obvious to me that I blush to state it this explicitly. But as I’ve said innumerable times here and elsewhere, obvious really means overlooked.

     The omission of the qualifying observations given here allowed priests of the late First Millennium to terrify many Europeans into giving all their worldly goods to the Church out of chiliastic panic: i.e., that the world would end with the millennium, and that only the voluntary surrender of all one’s wealth to the Church would grant one a chance of admission to heaven. Needless to say, the Church offered no refunds on January 1, 1001.

     All the same, there’s a red line to be observed: the line that divides the respect for the utility of wealth in this world from the Scrooge-like obsession with it that leaves no room for God or other men. If that line is respected, mere prosperity will not endanger the soul. If not...well, not only are hearses unequipped with luggage racks; Hell doesn’t provide its inmates with storage lockers.

     May God bless and keep you all.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Sameness Screed

     I have had it with the repetition of the Same Old Motifs in speculative fiction. Space wars. Time travel. Vampires. Werewolves. Witches. Zombies. Great God in heaven, zombies!

     Those elements are all used up. There’s no BLEEP!ing tread left on them. Recourse to them as the tendons and ligaments of a novel indicates that the author lacks imagination. And why do we read speculative fiction? FOR IMAGINATION AND ORIGINALITY!

     And I don’t BLEEP!ing care who’s sold a metric ton of books about vampires, werewolves, zombies, et cetera ad nauseam infinitam. Past performance is no guarantee of future returns, as the financial gurus will tell you.

     Larry Correia has supposedly made a mint with his Monster Hunter novels – he’ll tell you that at the slightest opening – but after I’d read three of those novels, they began to bore me terribly. (His “Dead Six / Exodus” collaborations with Mike Kupari are far more original and interesting.) So “I’ve sold a lot of books along those lines” fails as an argument that you, newly fledged indie writer, should try to do the same.

     But it seems that no one is attempting anything genuinely original. And no, putting a romantic thread into a book wrapped around a worn-out motif doesn’t make it original.

     Please pardon me, Gentle Reader. Yesterday I came to the end of my unread-books stack, a terrifying event here at the Fortress of Crankitude. So I went to Amazon and called up its “Recommended for you” list...and every BLEEP!ing recommendation was for a space war or an urban fantasy about werewolves or vampires.

     Enough! Enough! I say. I’ll purchase no more derivative, imitative crap! Nor will I tolerate it from an indie on the grounds that “I’ve got to establish myself.” You went indie to be free of the constraints of Pub World; why are you catering to their dictates like one of their slaves?

     Speculative fiction should question; invent; speculate. Fiction that reuses worn out motifs doesn’t qualify. And before you ask: Yes: The same applies to video games.

     I have spoken.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Borders -- an uncomfortable example

Apropos of the last post -- a very uncomfortable example:
A federal grand jury has indicted seven Latino gang members in connection with a 2014 firebombing attack at the Ramona Gardens housing project in Boyle Heights, accusing them of trying to drive black residents out of the neighborhood, prosecutors announced Thursday. 
Federal prosecutors allege that the men – all described as members of the Big Hazard street gang – met before the attack, where Carlos Hernandez, 31, is accused of telling the group they were going to use Molotov cocktails to firebomb homes where black families lived. 
While no one was injured in the May 12, 2014, firebombing, three of the four apartments targeted were occupied by black families, recalling uneasy times from decades ago when similar attacks prompted most African Americans to flee the housing project.
I originally saw this on Steve Sailer's blog, but I have lost the link.

There is the obvious racial angle, of course, but I wanted to come at it from another direction -- a failure in markets because of an unwillingness to acknowledge an important reality.

Basically, through my economic lens this looks to me like a black market in operation -- even though nobody is talking about buying or selling anything.  You have people in the market for a neighborhood 'of their own people', resorting to violence and obnoxiousness because such a market is effectively closed off by law.  There is demand frustrated for supply, and the result is violence and criminality.  And to be sure, this is not the only place you see this kind of thing, it is just a very overt and nasty example.

Forget about race and all that for a moment -- it is just very hard to imagine being able to assemble, say, a Presbyterian, or an environmentalist, or a homeschooling community, or a whatever-enthusiast community, precisely because we have open markets in housing.  There just isn't a good way to coordinate anything, because it is disallowable by our system of things to control who your neighbors sell their houses to.  Maybe conceivably, some mega-bucks guy could just build a whole neighborhood and let his buddies live there, or something of that nature.  But hopefully that sounds like an unreasonable stretch of things.

And yet people have a very strong interest in who their neighbors are.  This is an extremely valuable thing for people, and how their communities are structured and who they interact with are extremely meaningful in their lives.  But the only available mechanism for discrimination in markets is price.  And so, as a result, we have a highly stratified market with people bidding up prices absolutely like mad, for houses probably many of them really don't even want, just for a chance to hopefully not wind up next door to criminals, or for 'good schools,' i.e., so their kids don't get shot.  Which is a pretty low bar, but all you can ask for the way we have things set up.

And worse, you have miscreants in government actively stirring the pot by shuffling people into neighborhoods they have no business in and lifestyles they can't handle.  (Sorry, no link, but you know the kinds of programs...)

I don't really know what the answer to this is.  It isn't always reasonable to think that there should be a market in absolutely whatever people want -- we don't have a market in slavery anymore, for example.  Or children.  Maybe some wants just should be frustrated, criminality and violence in such cases being just that and no more.  I don't really want to go down that particular avenue.

But this is really, really bad, it is a huge problem, and it is the result of a system which has little meaningful avenue for expressing the existence of borders.  It isn't good for anyone.

Metaphysical Bumblings #3: Markets

I'm probably not the best person to 'do' philosophy, as I don't think I function in a particularly logically-driven fashion.  When I read most modern stuff (and, frankly, when I read most anything in terms of the kinds of things you see in fairly intelligent writings) very quickly I start to hear that voice in my head from the Peanuts cartoons -- that nasally 'wah wah, whah wha wah, wha....' that the adults speak in. usually glazes my eyes over and puts me to sleep.

Sorry, I just don't find 98% of it very convincing.  I can force myself to follow it, but it is almost always a waste of time, as I generally find that when I understand it, it is either trivial, repulsive, or wrong, and that 'style' of thinking seems to have this take-it-or-leave-it aspect to it that almost always means leaving it.  For me, anyway.  

I think in pictures -- if you want to convince me, invite me into your picture of things, and let me inspect the truth of it for myself.  I might take all of it, or some of it, or maybe only a little of it, but I almost never find that sort of writing to be totally without value.  I will almost always come away with something.

That's what I'd like to do here -- sketch out a few pictures of things, and see if there isn't some truth to be had.  Let's do some 'metaphysics of markets.'

First things, though -- I want to do something weird, and to do it, I need to do some clearing up of what seems to me some muddying that surrounds the ideas of 'subjective' and 'objective.'  I hope you'll bear with me, but in my opinion, the ways these two words are used is 90% wrong.

If you don't agree -- and you probably won't, at least at first -- that's okay.  You can keep your opinion.  I'm just sketching a picture here; I need this as an element, and once I'm done, you can go back to the way you've always done things if you don't find it useful to you.  But you probably won't be able to 'see' my picture if you don't first step into a different picture of these two terms.

Mere Objectivity

What I want to do -- and the reason most people won't like this -- is 'relativise' the meanings of objective and subjective.  However, I promise that if you stick around to the end, you'll get something else to anchor yourself that you might like better.  And as I said, you can always anchor yourself back to these terms if you don't like what I'm going to show you.

The reason I think you should consider 'relativising' the words objective and subjective is just because they are relative terms.  I've even heard that Eric Voegelin once instructed his students to simply stop using them because they do not correspond to anything in reality.  I do not think I would go that far, because I think they are useful in their place, nevertheless, I would agree with him that they are generally abused and therefore often unhelpful or downright misleading.

We usually like to think of rendering something like an 'objective' opinion or judgment, or giving 'objective' evidence, to mean something like 'true' evidence, or an 'impartial' opinion, or what have you.  But I have to use words like 'true', and 'just', and 'universal', and 'absolute' and other such notions and connotations we commonly attach to the word objective precisely because mere objectivity proper cannot render them on it's own.  Surely an opinion is more likely to be just if it is rendered objectively, but simply because one is 'outside' a situation (and therefore objective to it) does not render his opinion just.  Merely objective evidence is often wrong, misleading and all the rest, otherwise it would be enough to get at the truth simply to be objective.  Objectivity is certainly something, but it doesn't in itself render 'the whole enchilada.'  You need more to the system to get all of that -- like logic and consistency, veracity to actuality, etc.  Likewise for subjectivity.
So, at least for the moment, let's only use the words objective and subjective to mean, basically, whether we are viewing something from outside or inside a particular 'frame' at hand, and use the other sorts of words we have to mean those other things if we need them.  For the moment, we are only using the words to consider how the situation is framed.

With that annoying stuff out of the way, let's draw a couple of pictures.

Market Picture #1

Suppose that I took a map of reality -- a nice 2D picture with you in it -- and I drew a circle around just you.  You are inside of this circle (subjective frame of reference) with everything else outside of it (objective frame).  This, as it happens, is a pretty common way of thinking about things, for hopefully obvious reasons.

And if you think about markets in these terms, you can really go a long ways.  One interesting thing you may notice -- and one of the most important discoveries of economics as a science -- is that value is subjective.  It emerges from within market actors (like you).  (Yes, okay, we'll afford the other market actors their own circles, too.  I'm trying to keep it simple here.  They also impute value 'subjectively.')  People value goods, and this is what renders them valuable in markets.

Likewise, you will discover that prices are objective.  You can look at an ad in the newspaper, and you will see there prices that are indifferent to what you think of them.  You can consider them outrageous, you can consider them 'cheap.'  But whatever they are, they just are.  The numbers on the paper don't change depending on your opinion of them.

Do they emerge out of the physical laws of the universe?  Or some such?  No.  They emerge out of the decisions made by marginal actors in markets -- the ones making immediate decisions to buy or sell at a particular price at a particular moment in time.  Sometimes that marginal actor might be you, but most of the time not.  And even then, you really only get half a say -- it takes two to tango. 

Which is to say, that despite your very occasional participation, and despite being the outcome of the objectively visible actions of many individual actors, prices are nevertheless objective phenomena using our frame of reference.  They are 'brute facts of your Universe', as far as you are concerned.  Your 'say' in them reduces to a rounding error.  You just have to deal with them, as they are.

And hopefully it is equally crystal clear that they are -- nevertheless, nevertheless! -- the product of subjective valuations!  Time for some bold, large font --

Price structures are the outcome of value structures, via market mechanisms.  The objective structure of a market is a product of subjective values.

...and that's kinda important, especially to the actors who have to navigate those structures.

What I've sketched out here is the basics of Economic Subjectivism, one of the most critical insights of the subject of economics.  It was originally articulated by the Austrian school, but eventually absorbed by pretty much every modern school of economic thought.  I'm not gonna dwell on any more of the details within this picture much more than this, because lots of others already have much better than I could, it's pretty conventional, and I don't have a lot more to say about it as regards the point of his essay.

But to be sure, this is one doozy of a metaphysical system we have sketched out.  This way of dividing up reality will get you a lot.  You can see a long way from this mountaintop.  An awful lot of what is known of economic systems derives from this treatment of things.  And, I would submit, its effectiveness emerges for a very good reason -- because dividing things this way -- they way we drew our 'circle' -- captures a very important truth of the situation.  Individuality is an important aspect of reality, so 'breaking it at this joint' gives good results.

Metaphysical Skepticism

However (you knew there was going to be a 'however', didn't you?) when I have run across systems like this, I have come to find it good practice to ask two questions -- and I would encourage everyone who comes across some new train of reasoning or body of facts ("Evolution!  It's so amazing -- it explains everything!  Just like this --!") that is being put to use to make sweeping statements about all of reality ("Therefore, obviously, there's no God.") to make use of them.

Question 1 -- So what?  As in, does this thing really imply all of that?  Are you sure?  Do I have to take it just this way, all the way to the ends of reality?  Or are the implications really more limited than all that?

Question 2 -- What else?  As in, is this all there is?  The whole story?  Might there be more -- especially more that might bear a bit more directly on questions that seem further removed from the original issues that led to this train of thought?

In the case at hand, what we learned emerged out of a way of dividing up reality -- one way among many we could have chosen -- and the result turned out to be pretty darn good.  But just what all should we conclude from it -- i.e., so what?  Well, a lot, but maybe not everything.  We definitely should not conclude that 'this is it' without any further inspection.  We didn't bother (yet!) to divide it up some other way and see if something useful might shake out. Is there anything else? My tendency is to almost always answer this question one way -- there is almost always more!  Reality is a big and wondrous place.  I don't think that needs a lot of elaboration.

Let's see if we can find more.  How about another picture?

Market Picture #2

This time, we're going to draw the circle in a different place -- instead of around individual people, around a group of people.  We'll pick the one that's getting the most attention of late -- a nation of people.  You could probably draw a circle around other groups and arrive at useful conclusions, but for now we'll stick with this one of interest.

Now, a lot of people who support free-trade will talk about 'invisible lines' or 'imaginary lines', to ridicule the idea of the meaningfulness of national borders and such.  And if we had bought in too deeply into the metaphysics from before -- that our way of dividing up reality was not merely a useful way for yielding truthful insight, reflective of truth, but in fact necessarily the whole truth of the matter -- we might be pulled in.  But hopefully, by getting as far as we have in the way that we have, it is easy to see that this characterization carries not much weight -- of course the line is 'imaginary', so was the one that we drew around individuals!  The whole point of drawing it was to imagine, to see if we found any truth in it, and the exercise proved very useful indeed!  If the objections is, 'well of course, that's not really what I meant, I meant it doesn't correspond to anything 'real', in the way an individual is 'real',' well, then I will say at least this begins to get to the heart of the matter.

And honestly, I wish the debates on the matter would go this way, instead of the way they usually go -- each side making fun of the other, without taking the debate to the actual issue at hand.  Are groups real, or not?  Because that is the issue, and no other.  And as with our previous example, I would submit that if they are real, then we should immediately see that applying this metaphysical divide will yield us some useful insight. And since I am not very good at this sort of reasoning and this section is devolving into the sort of writing that I don't like, rather than run around and around with this, let's finish off the 'drawing' and see what the picture looks like.

I think it is a very useful picture indeed.  With the circle drawn around nations, the pattern one immediately notices is that the price structure is typically fairly different within one circle as compared to outside of it.  In fact, a lot of things are different.  If our inferences hold from the previous 'drawing,' this is the result of differing value structures -- that just happen to line up with the circles we drew.  Clearly, there appears to be an underlying reality to the circle.  Some would say that, well, it's the legal sanctions imposed at the border that causes the difference, and to a degree this is partially true, but even when borders were far looser than today and where they have had much less legal significance, there were still differences -- and further there are price structure differences within borders where there is no substantial legal differentiation between regions.  Think -- one city versus another in the same state, or a city versus the countryside.

Of more significance, I think, is that in this picture, to the degree that prices differ, pricing is subjective!  The differences emerge from within the confines of the circle -- subjective to our delineation -- presumably in response to local economic conditions, as an expression of local valuations.  External conditions impinge only so far, even in the absence of any sort of purely legal differentiation.  If we were to modify the large, bold statement we made earlier, we'd have to say further that price and value structures emerge from 'the' subjective valuations 'of the members of the system in question.'  Not purely and abstractly from 'subjective valuation,' which is a bit different.  Presumably you care about the values of the people around you that you live with and do business with.  Their opinions are not wholly 'subjective' -- in the former, abused sense -- and arbitrary to you, as the previous formulation might seem to imply.

So -- 'real' or not, groups at least matter.  And to the degree they matter, well, to me at least they would seem to be 'real'.  And I don't want to run to the clincher just yet, but generally, there is a rather wise conservative proverb concerning theories that ignore significant realities...

 How about valuations?  This, I think, can get either very murky...or very trivial...or very interesting. 

At first glance, they are clearly subjective, because they also emerge locally from within the circle.  Or, if you want to import more of the previous metaphysics, from within the individuals who are within the circle.  And, as you probably intoned from the discussion so far, there is a significance to this -- different groups possess and express different value structures, and in turn will produce different price structures and consequently different economic structures. How could it be otherwise? 

Likewise, from within any particular circle, both prices and values outside the circle are objective, emerging from outside.  There are 'your' values and structures and ways, and then there are 'the world's.'  You could also have done this from the previous metaphysics (and probably seen some truth in a 'you versus the world' perspective, but hopefully you don't feel quite that isolated!)

But suppose we ask of our picture this -- ok, so the value structures, as expressed in markets, come from groups of people.  But where do the groups and the people get them?  Do they really emerge 'just' from within them?

And for whatever reason, when you ask a question like this almost everyone will default to a materialist perspective, and say 'well, of course!  Where else would they come from?'  Which I guess is fine if you actually are a materialist, but since most people would say that they are not, that they belong to some religion or other that believes in 'spiritual' things, or otherwise believes in the 'immaterial,' this is kind of an inadequate answer.  And I suspect that even most of the materialists don't really believe what they are saying, if they really think about it. As I pointed out in another post, most people will say that they at least nominally belong to one transcendent religion or another, so they probably ought to think that some portion of their beliefs and values are not merely subjective opinions but are given them from 'outside' -- that as individuals or as a group of faithful believers, they give expression to transcendent, eternal values which could be said to be objective to the entirety of the material universe, coming as they do from beyond it.

 And if you say this is what you believe -- that it is a part of your metaphysics -- then why on earth is it not just habitually a part of your 'picture' of things?

 As regards the picture we are presently drawing -- if we believe these sorts of things, then as 'beings made in the image of God', or however this idea is formulated by other religions, we can act as 'metaphysical conduits' through whatever circle we choose to draw to that which is 'truly objective'. There simply is no adequate 'firewall' to a transcendent God. And so -- in an important sense -- we could say that the values, prices, structures, etc, in our circle are our attempt at the expression of something much higher than our own subjective tastes, objective in the sense that really matters -- the ultimate sense. Therefore these things must take on something other than being 'merely subjective,' at least if we are to take our beliefs and ourselves seriously.

 Have I shot through the metaphysical picture well enough?

 Anyway, the picture that emerges is sets of value structures expressed by individuals and groups of people, occasionally, and unfortunately, sometimes even arrayed against eachother (i.e., in conflict).  And, frankly, the way these structures get to maintain their identity and integrity -- the way that people and groups get to live out their values -- is through borders.  Period.  Without any reality to the imaginary lines, they don't exist anymore, and the temporal becomes the tyrannical.  So, regardless of what I might think (or not think) about policy, or governments, or what any of these values should or should not be, it seems to be at the very least folly in my eyes to deny the reality and necessity of national borders -- provided there be such a thing as a nation.  And probably much worse than folly.

 I suppose you could take this picture a lot of directions, but I will just say a bit more -- it seems to me you could draw a great number of these circles in meaningful ways -- around family lineages (especially concerning the issue of inheritance, which seems to have completely gone to the dogs), around families themselves, around neighborhoods and communities, etc.  Without representation of these realities in the here and now -- without borders -- well, you can expect them to have about as much reality in truth as the representation afforded them.  When you open your borders up, you invite in external values.  And since the world is bigger than you, and probably also your group, you'll likely be overwhelmed.

 People need to allow for this...somehow.  If you buy into this picture anyway...


     The “education establishment” is in full revolt against education.

     What’s that, Gentle Reader? I should tell you something you don’t already know? Well, perhaps a bit later. It’s still early in the ayem, and I need a few keystrokes to warm up the old bile ducts. (Yes, they’re only as old as the rest of me, but they’ve got a lot of miles on them.)

     Education – “to lead out,” from its Latin roots – is one of the few occupational areas whose “practitioners” deliberately resist the practice thereof. We all know the horror stories: the fads and fashions that have displaced proven methods; the elevation of “fairness” and “equality” over results; the deliberate dumbing-down of course content to prevent the slightest of bruises to anyone’s “self-esteem.” We also know about the use of the government-run schools – I refuse to call them “public” schools, as they’re openly averse to any inspection or criticism by the public – as indoctrination centers and institutions by which children can be separated emotionally from their parents. It’s all deplorable, and at great cost at that.

     Trouble is, with roughly 90% of American students incarcerated in the State-run schools, the 10% of educational institutions outside the State’s direct control are nevertheless pulled along in their wake. They can’t avoid partaking of the pool of “teachers” not currently employed by the State. They can’t afford to commission special textbooks for their use. They can’t evade the “social justice” influences that have reduced State schooling to the level of day care. Only the determined parents who elect to homeschool have a chance of preserving their kids’ most precious possession: the opportunity to learn and grow.

     Homeschooling puts its practitioners under intense pressure. It requires a financial commitment that can badly strain a family. It often puts parents at odds with their kids, who frequently resent the separation from the experiences of the coevals. And of course, the educrats purely hate it for its superior performance and would love to see it made impossible. American parents that homeschool deserve profound admiration for their grit.

     But that’s all yesterday’s news. What I had in mind this morning derives from this commemoration of a remarkable educator:

     In 1990, the Navajo students of Window Rock High School in Fort Defiance, Arizona, asked the author of their calculus book, John Saxon, to be their graduation speaker. The class sponsor had suggested the governor as their speaker, but the students wanted Saxon.

     A story in The Arizona Republic explained, “At this high school, as at thousands of other schools around the country, Saxon’s name is spoken with reverence by pupils who credit him with changing completely their views about math.”

     The educrats hated John Saxon. They still do. They routinely revile his memory. (He died in 1996.) Why? Because he reintroduced old methods of mathematics instruction and proved that they outperform the fashionable fads. In doing so, he demonstrated something the educrats regard as the vilest heresy:

     In 1992, an Atlanta, Georgia, newspaper wrote about a conflict around “Saxon Math” being put on the state’s approved adoption list. They said a “heretical yearning for ‘learning by heart’ was creeping across the land…relying on old-fashioned memorization and repetition…Proponents don’t see this as a retreat into the past, but a post-modern appropriating of traditions for the effectiveness in the present.”

     The results his students achieved demonstrated that Saxon’s “old-fashioned” methods outperform the trendy ones: in other words, that we’ve known how to teach mathematics to teenagers for a long, long time.

     Educrats have a great deal in common with art and music critics. Both groups aspire to higher status than their trades deserve. Both groups have adopted a radical technique: to disavow what works in favor of something “innovative.”

     “Modern art” – ugly crap that displays neither effort, nor skill, nor insight into the human condition, practically the antithesis of art as art was known and judged a century ago – is “popular” only with professional critics. Similarly, the methods of “modern education” are popular only with those who vend them. Educrats, and the special colleges from which they emerge, ceaselessly promote pedagogical innovations that fail in practice. The rationale for each is the failure of the previous edition: “Yes, we got it wrong last time, but we’re confident we can do it right now.”

     The kids aren’t learning. Their dismayed, frustrated parents feel powerless to compel critical examination and improvements. But the educrats are happy. They’ve created a jargon-laden priesthood that allows them to feel special, intellectually superior to the grubby groundlings whose kids are at their mercy. Better yet, by clever political maneuvering and the amassing of allies within state and federal “education” departments, they’ve succeeded in insulating themselves against correction.

     Only the emergence of a John Saxon or a Jaime Escalante, or the superior performance of homeschooled kids whose parents employ the “antiquated” methods of decades past, can threaten their bastions.

     The entire American educational system is a failure and worse. Our kids emerge from these expensive institutions knowing very little and presuming a whole lot more. Worse, these institutions function as transmission systems for vile ideas and prejudices, including this one: that they should reject the wisdom and experience of their parents by default. Glenn Reynolds and I concur that at this time, for a parent to submit his child to an educational institution is a form of child abuse.

     But as with most State enterprises, the mandarins of the government-run schools maintain that “they’ll get it right” if only:

  1. They’re given more money;
  2. They’re freed from externally imposed standards;
  3. They can suppress competition from homeschoolers and the remaining religious schools.

     Under no circumstances will the educrats allow into the discussion the simple fact that a century ago, the schools worked smoothly if not flawlessly. Yea verily, even the government-run schools. They avoided the “social justice” cant of our time. That allowed them to employ methods that today’s educrats will not abide:

  • Drill;
  • Testing;
  • Correction;
  • Discipline;
  • And most important of all, failure.

     A child who tested poorly wouldn’t be fawned over for the sake of his “self-esteem;” his parents would be notified; they’d compel him to drill longer and harder. A child who resisted correction by his teacher would receive it from his parents, often at the end of a peach switch. A child who proved to be too unruly to teach, disruptive to his classmates’ instruction, would be expelled to make his way uneducated. And of course, a child who failed repeatedly would be examined closely to determine whether he was educable at all, and relieved of the pressures if the answer was negative.

     What worked in 1900 works equally well in the Twenty-First Century...but the educrats don’t want you to know that, nor to listen to any of the apostles of the proven methods of yesteryear.

     Which is why the name of John Saxon, may he rest forever in peace in God’s arms, is revered by those who appreciate his insight, and reviled by those whose priesthood is threatened by the success of his methods.